With farmers facing the challenge to double food production in the next 40 years to meet the needs of a growing world population, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan brought together about 100 elected officials and agribusiness leaders Nov. 29 in Birmingham for the “Feeding the World” Agriculture Symposium.
“By 2050, it is estimated that the world’s population will approach 9 billion people,” McMillan said. “We recognize that supplying people with food and fiber is going to be an issue that must be dealt with quickly in order to prepare for this challenge.
“Alabama alone cannot meet these demands, but we must position ourselves to help meet these challenges,” he added. “With our warm climate, generally abundant water supplies and people, we have the resources to be able to help meet these demands.”
U.S. Reps. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, and Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, both members of the House Agriculture Committee, joined McMillan in welcoming participants to the symposium.
Roby renewed her commitment to fight against over-reaching government regulations while working to meet the needs of her farmer constituents. Roby recently introduced legislation inspired by comments she heard from farmers during agricultural listening sessions that would gradually reduce the total acreage enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program.
“We can’t feed the world if the federal government is in competition with farmers to take property out of production,” Roby said.
The Preserving Marginal Lands and Protecting Farming Act, H.R. 3454, would reduce CRP acreage by 20 percent while preserving the program’s ability to protect the most environmentally sensitive lands. Sewell co-sponsored the bill and called on fellow members in Congress to set aside partisan politics and work together for the good of all Americans.
“At the end of the day, no matter how bleak it is when it comes to job creation and the economy, I think we all agree that there is no country in the world that wouldn’t trade places with the United States,” she said.
Farmer input into policy
Sewell and Roby agreed that failure of the deficit-reduction “super committee” to reach agreement on budget cuts — including farm bill spending —should provide greater opportunity for farmers to offer input on federal farm policy.
While the congresswomen focused on how federal regulations and farm programs impact the ability of farmers to feed the world, other speakers at the symposium discussed topics ranging from agricultural research and crop protection materials to cotton production and irrigation.
Symposium presenters were: William Batchelor, dean of Auburn University’s College of Agriculture; Leonard Gianessi of Crop Life; Jim Shepard, dean of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences; Donnie Smith, CEO of Tyson Foods Inc.; Kater Hake of Cotton Incorporated; and James Robinson, a geologist with Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood Inc. The luncheon speaker was Mike Royer, news anchor for WVTM NBC 13 in Birmingham. Royer, who grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Indiana, said his rural background taught him to set goals, strive for consistency and never give up.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby praised the Department of Agriculture and Industries for organizing the symposium.
“This was an excellent program. The speakers were outstanding, and it brought together a diverse group of people involved in feeding Alabama and the world,” Newby said. “We need to share the information presented here with farmers, elected officials, teachers and others.”
Batchelor noted that the timing of the symposium was appropriate given news reports earlier in November that the world population hit 7 billion people for the first time in history. As the overall population grows, Batchelor said the world’s middle class will triple in the next 40 years, which will increase demand for meat proteins. But despite agricultural advancements that have more than doubled production since 1950, demand for food currently is growing at a rate of 2 percent per year, which is outpacing gains in productivity.
To meet this need, Batchelor said it will take technological breakthroughs in food production along with incremental improvements resulting from ongoing research.
Other speakers discussed the need to expand irrigation, preserve the safe use of crop protection materials and limit burdensome regulations. They all agreed, however, that the most pressing need is to educate consumers about the necessity of modern agricultural practices in maintaining food security.
“We have to teach them what we know, and we have to do it in a hurry,” Smith said. “We have a massive responsibility on our shoulders. We have to tell our story.”
McMillan said he plans to post a video of the symposium as well as the speakers’ presentations to the symposium website.
The “Feeding the World” Agriculture Symposium was sponsored by Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, SFI Implementation Committee, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Ag Credit, Alabama Agribusiness Council, Southern Crop Production Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization, First South Farm Credit, CropLife America, Syngenta, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, Dupont, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Southern Company.